A number of historians and biographers have explained the famed Tory statesman’s invocation of his Jewish heritage, in his novels and elsewhere, as a way of making himself attractive to aristocratic figures through a connection with an exotic and in its own way noble Sephardi lineage. In his recent biography of Disraeli, the late David Cesarani attacks this claim and proposes another:
Disraeli’s Hebraic rhapsodies did not endear him to the aristocrats he was [supposedly] impressing with his Jewish genealogy and racial genius. On the contrary, they were offended by the claims made in [his novel] Tancred, irritated by his parliamentary speeches [in favor of expanding Jews’ political rights] in 1847, and outraged by [by ideas about Judaism and Christianity he put forward in his biography of his erstwhile patron] Lord George Bentinck.
By contrast, if they were not euphoric about his interventions, the Rothschilds [the Jewish banking family] were at least mildly flattered. A more credible explanation of Disraeli’s “Jewish explosion” is that it served as neither compensation nor consolation [for lack of aristocratic roots]; it was intended to make him appear more Jewish to get closer to the Rothschilds. . . . Such a tactic fits his pattern of behavior and requires no convoluted explanations or contorted chronology.
Disraeli’s approach to the Rothschilds was largely successful, although they never felt entirely comfortable with him. The nub of the problem was his attitude toward Judaism. When he did not directly denigrate their religion, he tacitly reproached them for not being Christians. The only way he could connect with them was by stressing their “racial” affinity. . . . [T]here was an inverse relationship between his devaluation of Judaism, inherited from his father, and his exaggerated claims for the potency and genius of the Jewish “race,” which [his father] Isaac would have deplored. Disraeli’s self-racialization was the curious solution to his dual identity: it enabled him to be a Jew and a Christian at the same time.